Monday, July 28, 2008

God's Word In Servant Form by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.

God's Word In Servant-Form:
Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck on the Doctrine of Scripture
by Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Reformed Academic Press, 2008, 107pp.
In his The Divine Spiration of Scripture [reviewed here], A.T.B. McGowan's proposes that evangelicals should abandon the doctrine of biblical inerrancy in favour of a reconfigured notion of the infallibility of Scripture. He puts the emphasis on God speaking infallibly through Scripture rather than on the inerrant properties of the biblical text. In doing so, McGowan claims that he is following the precedent of Dutch Reformed theologians Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. According to him, Kuyper and Bavinck eschewed biblical inerrancy as advocated by Princeton divines B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge and instead opted for a 'high' view of Scripture as God's infallible Word that did not entail a commitment to an errorless Bible. Gaffin is not responding directly to McGowan's thesis in this little volume. His interlocutors are Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, who argued that biblical inerrancy is a regrettable a deviation from the mainstream Christian view of the Bible. They too sought to drive a wedge between the Dutch theologians and Princeton.

Gaffin pays careful attention to the works of Kuyper and Bavinck and demonstrates convincingly that they held that the Bible is both infallible and without error. Considering that McGowan goes out of his way to identify with the views of these men, it is passing strange that he explicitly rejects one of their controlling perspectives on the Bible. He critiques the incarnational model of Scripture (p. 119-121), which is based on the analogy between the divine/human union in the Person of Christ and the Bible as God's Word through human beings. He suggests that Bavinck shares his misgivings. But this is not necessarily the case. As Gaffin shows, both Kuyper and Bavinck model biblical inspiration on the incarnation of the the divine Logos. Kuyper wrote,

"As the Logos has not appeared in the form of glory but in the form of a servant, joining Himself to the reality of our nature as this had come to be through the results of sin, so also for the revelation of His Logos, God the Lord accepts our consciousness, our human life as it is... As a product of writing, the Holy Scripture, too, bears on its forehead the mark of the form of a servant." (p. 7 & 8).

As Christ's human nature, even in servant form was without sin, so argued Kuyper, Scripture as God's Word through human beings is without error. Now the Dutch theologian did not believe that the Bible is scientifically accurate. He acknowledged that the Scripture is often 'impressionistic' rather than pedantically precise. But he said that the 'graphic inspiration' of Scripture aims at "the removal of every error which threatened to creep into any writing through inadvertence and malicious intent". (p. 29 & 30).

Similarly Bavinck's doctrine of Scripture draws heavily on the enfleshment of the divine Word,

"And in order to reach that goal [that God will be all in all] the word of revelation passes over into Scripture. Thus, Scripture, too, is means and instrument, not a goal. It flows out of the incarnation of God in Christ; it is in a certain sense the continuation of the incarnation, the way along which Christ dwells in his church... Scripture is the servant-from of revelation." (p. 56).

Bavinck did not use the language of biblical inerrancy and he was careful to stress the humanness of Scripture. But he held that the Bible both in form and content is the very Word of God. Rather than distancing himself from the inerrantist doctrine of Hodge and Warfield, Bavinck commends them as men who held to the historic Christian teaching on the inspiration and authority of Scripture (p. 69).

Richard Gaffin's work seriously calls into question important aspects of the Rogers and McKim thesis. By implication he has also shattered the central plank in the argument advanced by A. T. B. McGowan in The Divine Spiration of Scripture, that like him Kuyper and Bavinck rejected biblical inerrancy in favour of a looser category of infallibility. But readers will find much more here than polemics. In setting forth the mature teachings of Kuyper and Bavinck, Gaffin has opened up a rich vein of constructive theological reflection on the nature of Scripture as God's theanthropic Word in servant-form.

Order info:

After trying unsuccessfully to get hold of this book in the UK, I ordered my copy from Solid Ground Christian Books in the USA. To save p&p, group with another slim volume like The Humanness of John Calvin, by Richard Stauffer, Solid Ground Christian Books, 2008. Together they cost $24.75 or approx £12.40 inc. p&p. Solid Ground also do a very good deal on the complete set of Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics - I obtained my set from them.

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